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Lindsey Graham Pushes for 20-Week Abortion Ban in Senate—Again

Emily Crockett

“I can promise you a debate in 2015, and a vote,” Graham said at a press conference Thursday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Thursday reintroduced his legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy nationwide, possibly pressuring the U.S. Senate to take a symbolic vote on the bill.

“I can promise you a debate in 2015, and a vote,” Graham said at a press conference Thursday, adding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has a “favorable” view of the bill and will make time for it in the schedule.

This isn’t a new fight for Graham, and it’s a fight the Republican-dominated Congress spent considerable time on this session. A version of the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, based on the discredited theory that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, already passed the House last month.

Graham’s bill is nearly identical to that legislation. Neither of the bills allow exceptions for a woman’s health or for fetal anomalies, many of which cannot be detected before 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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After a heated debate over rape and incest exceptions temporarily killed the bill’s prospects this year, Republicans settled on requiring victims to wait 48 hours for an abortion rather than report their crime to police.

“The Senate Republicans’ abortion ban is an attack on rape and incest survivors, on pregnant women facing a health crisis and on women everywhere,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said in a statement. “The bill offers no health exception—no help to women facing cancer, kidney failure or other tragic complications during their pregnancies. It also re-victimizes survivors of rape and incest by assuming they are lying and creating unconscionable barriers to care.”

Pro-choice legislators and advocates also oppose the legislation because it would present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and threaten women’s constitutional right to choose abortion care.

Roe determined that women have the right to an abortion before a fetus is viable, which is typically around 24 weeks’ gestation. A very small number of babies survive after being born earlier than that, but most have serious health issues.

The medically inaccurate language that Republican legislators use in 20-week ban bills further complicates the issue of gestational age.

Graham has made it clear that he hopes his bill will challenge the standards of Roe.

Roe v. Wade acknowledges that there is a compelling state interest in protecting the unborn child at the point of medical viability,” Graham said. “I would argue that since 1973 to now, that standard has probably changed. But we’re coming up with a new standard, which I think is very compelling.”

The standard is the discredited notion of “fetal pain,” and the anti-choice strategy is to use it to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“The only way you can have a hearing at the highest level of the land is to get this bill through the Congress,” Graham said.

That will be an uphill battle, but it’s one Graham and his anti-choice allies are prepared to fight long term, hoping to convince the public that a 20-week ban is a reasonable compromise rather than a wholesale anti-choice attack on Roe v. Wade.

Graham’s spokesperson, Kevin Bishop, told Rewire that the bill is “unlikely” to get the 60 votes it needs to pass the Senate today, and that even if it did, Obama would veto it.

“Graham has made it clear he doesn’t expect the bill to be passed into law,” Bishop said.

But a Senate vote to gauge support is the first step, he said. “Then over a few years, continue to build support for the day when it can be sent to a future president for a signature into law.”

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